Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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Herring launched the conservative One American News Network (OAN) in 2013. While employed by OAN, Rouz also wrote articles as a freelancer for Sputnik, a Russian state-financed news organization. Herring alleges that Rouz’s work for Sputnik “had no relation to his work for OAN.” In 2019, The Daily Beast published an article entitled “Trump’s New Favorite Channel Employs KremlinPaid Journalist,” asserting that “Kremlin propaganda sometimes sneaks into” Rouz’s OAN segments. On the day the article was published, Maddow, host of The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC, ran a segment entitled “Staffer on Trump-Favored Network Is on Propaganda Kremlin Payroll.” The segment ran three and a half minutes.Herring sued Maddow and others for defamation. Herring did not sue The Daily Beast or its reporter but focused on Maddow’s comment that OAN “really literally is paid Russian propaganda.” Maddow moved to strike the complaint, citing California’s anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) law. The district court granted the motion. The Ninth Circuit affirmed. Maddow’s “statement is an opinion that cannot serve as the basis for a defamation claim” and Herring failed to show “a probability of succeeding on its defamation claims.” The challenged statement was an obvious exaggeration, cushioned within an undisputed news story; it could not reasonably be understood to imply an assertion of objective fact. View "Herring Networks, Inc. v, Maddow" on Justia Law

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Loyhayem filed suit under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(1)(A)–(B), which prohibits robocalls to cellphones except for emergency purposes or with the prior express consent of the called party. Loyhayem received a call to his cell phone that left a pre-recorded voicemail message: Hi, this is Don with Fraser Financial... I recently saw your industry experience and I wanted to let you know that we’re looking to partner with select advisors ... I thought you might be a fit.” Loyhayem characterized this call as a “job recruitment call,” and alleged that it was made using an automated telephone dialing system and an artificial or pre-recorded voice and that he did not expressly consent to calls from Fraser.The district court dismissed Loyhayem’s suit, holding that the TCPA and the implementing regulation do not prohibit job-recruitment robocalls. The court read the Act as prohibiting robocalls to cell phones only when the calls include an “advertisement” or constitute “telemarketing,” as those terms have been defined by the FCC. The Ninth Circuit reversed. The statute prohibits in plain terms “any call,” regardless of content, that is made to a cell phone using an automatic telephone dialing system or an artificial or pre-recorded voice. Loyhayem adequately alleged that the call he received was not made for emergency purposes and that he did not expressly consent to it. View "Loyhayem v. Fraser Financial & Insurance Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit granted in part and denied in part a petition for review challenging the FCC's order finding that a competitive local exchange carrier's tariffed rate was void ab initio because it violated the FCC's benchmarking rule by exceeding the established step-down rates.The panel held that the FCC did not err in concluding that Wide Voice's tariff violated the benchmarking rule by deviating from the established stepdown rates. In this case, the FCC's conclusion that Wide Voice's tariff was unlawful because it violated the benchmarking rule was neither arbitrary nor capricious However, the panel held that the FCC's determination that the tariff was void ab initio after being "deemed lawful" in accordance with the governing statute was arbitrary and capricious. The panel followed the lead of the D.C. Circuit in concluding that the FCC impermissibly disregarded the "deemed lawful" status of Wide Voice's tariffs in contravention of Congress' unambiguously expressed intent to provide a mechanism to achieve that "deemed lawful" status. Furthermore, the FCC elided its own prior ruling, as well as prior court rulings precluding retrospective remedies for "deemed lawful" rates later determined to be unreasonable. View "Wide Voice, LLC v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

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The Beef Promotion and Research Act of 1985 imposes a $1 assessment, or “checkoff,” on each head of cattle sold in the U.S. to fund beef consumption promotional activities. The Secretary of Agriculture oversees the program. The Montana Beef Council and other qualified state beef councils (QSBCs), receive a portion of the checkoff assessments to fund promotional activities and may direct a portion of these funds to third parties for the production of advertisements and other promotional materials. R-CALF's members include cattle producers who object to their QSBCs’ advertising campaigns. In 2016, the Secretary entered into memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with QSBCs which granted the Secretary preapproval authority over promotions and allowed the Secretary to decertify noncompliant QSBCs, terminating their access to checkoff funds. The Secretary must preapprove all contracts to third parties and any resulting plans. QSBCs can make noncontractual transfers of checkoff funds to third parties for promotional materials which do not need to be pre-approved. Plaintiffs contend that the distribution of funds under these arrangements is an unconstitutional compelled subsidy of private speech.The Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the federal defendants after holding that R-CALF had associational standing and direct standing to sue QSBCs. The speech generated by the third parties for promotional materials was government speech, exempt from First Amendment scrutiny. Given the breadth of the Secretary's authority, third-party speech not subject to pre-approval was effectively controlled by the government. View "Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America v. Vilsack" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's judgment dismissing an amended complaint against Snap based on immunity under the Communications Decency Act (CDA), 47 U.S.C. 230(c)(1). Plaintiffs, the surviving parents of two boys who died in a high-speed accident, alleged that Snap encouraged their sons to drive at dangerous speeds and caused the boys' deaths through its negligent design of its smartphone application Snapchat. Specifically, plaintiffs claimed that Snapchat allegedly knew or should have known, before the accident, that its users believed that a reward system existed and that the Speed Filter was therefore incentivizing young drivers to drive at dangerous speeds.The panel applied the Barnes factors and concluded that, because plaintiffs' claim neither treats Snap as a "publisher or speaker" nor relies on "information provided by another information content provider," Snap does not enjoy immunity from this suit under section 230(c)(1). In this case, Snap is being used for the predictable consequences of designing Snapchat in such a way that it allegedly encourages dangerous behavior, and the CDA does not shield Snap from liability for such claims. The panel declined to affirm the district court's decision on the alternative ground that plaintiffs have failed to plead adequately in their amended complaint the causation element of their negligent design claim. Accordingly, the panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Lemmon v. Snap, Inc." on Justia Law

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The defendants immigrated to the U.S. from Somalia years ago and lived in Southern California. They were convicted of sending or conspiring to send, $10,900 to Somalia to support a foreign terrorist organization, 18 U.S.C. 2339, and money laundering.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the convictions. The government may have violated the Fourth Amendment and did violate the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), 50 U.S.C. 1861, when it collected the telephony metadata of millions of Americans, including at least one of the defendants, but suppression was not warranted in this case because the metadata collection did not taint the evidence introduced at trial. The court’s review of the classified record confirmed that the metadata did not and was not necessary to support the probable cause showing for the FISA warrant application. The Fourth Amendment requires notice to a criminal defendant when the prosecution intends to enter into evidence or otherwise use or disclose information obtained or derived from surveillance of that defendant conducted pursuant to the government’s foreign intelligence authorities, but in this case, any lack of notice did not prejudice the defendants. Evidentiary rulings challenged by the defendants did not, individually or cumulatively, impermissibly prejudice the defense and sufficient evidence supported the convictions. View "United States v. Moalin" on Justia Law

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Federal law does not facially preempt California law governing universal service contributions from prepaid wireless providers. Federal law requires telecommunications providers, including wireless providers such as MetroPCS, to contribute to the federal Universal Service Fund, which helps provide affordable telecommunications access. California requires its own universal service contributions, adopting the Prepaid Mobile Telephony Services Surcharge Collection Act in 2014, which (prior to its recent expiration) governed the collection of surcharges from prepaid wireless customers. The CPUC issued resolutions implementing the Prepaid Act that required providers of prepaid services to use a method other than the three FCC recognized methods to determine the revenues generated by intrastate traffic that were subject to surcharge. MetroPCS filed suit challenging the CPUC's resolutions.The panel held that the expiration of the Prepaid Act did not cause this case to become moot and that the panel therefore has jurisdiction to reach the merits of MetroPCS's preemption claim. On the merits, the panel held that preemption is disfavored because there was a dual federal-state regulatory scheme and a history of state regulation in the area of intrastate telecommunications. In this case, the CPUC resolutions are not facially preempted by the Telecommunications Act and related FCC decisions. The panel rejected MetroPCS's argument that the resolutions conflict with the requirement of competitive neutrality by depriving prepaid providers (but not postpaid providers) of the "right" to calculate intrastate revenues in a way that avoids assessing the same revenues as federal contribution requirements. Furthermore, the panel rejected MetroPCS's argument that because prepaid providers are deprived of that "right," the resolutions are preempted regardless of the treatment of competing providers. Therefore, the panel reversed the district court's ruling in favor of MetroPCS and remanded for the district court to consider in the first instance MetroPCS's other challenges to the resolution. View "MetroPCS California, LLC v. Picker" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit granted in part and denied in part petitions for review of three FCC orders issued in 2018 concerning the newest generation of wireless broadband technology known as "5G." Two of the orders, known as the Small Cell Order and Moratoria Order, spell out the limits on local governments' authority to regulate telecommunications providers. The third order, known as the One Touch Make-Ready Order, was intended to prevent owners and operators of utility poles from discriminatorily denying or delaying 5G and broadband service providers access to the poles.The panel held that, given the deference owed to the agency in interpreting and enforcing this important legislation, the Small Cell and Moratoria Orders are, with the exception of one provision, in accord with the congressional directive in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and not otherwise arbitrary, capricious, or contrary to law. The exception is the Small Cell Order provision dealing with the authority of local governments in the area of aesthetic regulations. The panel held that to the extent that provision requires small cell facilities to be treated in the same manner as other types of communications services, the regulation is contrary to the congressional directive that allows different regulatory treatment among types of providers, so long as such treatment does not "unreasonably discriminate among providers of functionally equivalent services." The panel also held that the FCC's requirement that all aesthetic criteria must be "objective" lacks a reasoned explanation.The panel upheld the third order, holding that the FCC reasonably interpreted Section 224 of the Act as a matter of law, and the order is not otherwise arbitrary or capricious. The panel rejected petitioners' challenges to four secondary aspects of the order regarding rules for overlashing, preexisting violations, self-help, and rate reform. View "City of Portland v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment in favor of an eleven year old boy in an action alleging that Credit One violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act by making 189 automated calls to his cell phone. In this case, Credit One was trying to collect past-due payments from a customer, but, unbeknownst to the bank, the customer's cell phone number had been reassigned to Sandra Lemos, who in turn had let her son, N.L., use the phone as his own.The panel joined every circuit to have addressed this issue and held that the consent of the person it intended to call did not exempt Credit One from liability under the TCPA. Therefore, Credit One cannot escape liability under the TCPA and upheld the district court's determination that Credit One was liable for the calls made to N.L. The panel also held that, in light of Marks v. Crunch San Diego, LLC, 904 F.3d 1041 (9th Cir. 2018), the district court properly instructed the jury on the definition of an "automatic telephone dialing system." Because the jury instruction on this definition is consistent with Marks, the panel held that Credit One's challenge to it failed. View "N. L. v. Credit One Bank, N.A." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit filed an order withdrawing its prior opinion and replacing the opinion with an amended opinion, denying a petition for panel rehearing, and denying on behalf of the court a petition for rehearing en banc. The panel also filed an amended opinion reserving the district court's dismissal, as barred by section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (DCA), of claims under New York law and the Lanham Act's false advertising provision.Enigma filed suit alleging that Malwarebytes Inc. has configured its software to block users from accessing Enigma's software in order to divert Enigma's customers. The panel distinguished Zango Inc. v. Kaspersky Lab, Inc., 568 F.3d 1169, 1173 (9th Cir. 2009), from this case and held that the parties here were competitors. The panel heeded the warning in Zango against an overly expansive interpretation of section 230 that could lead to anticompetitive results. The panel held that the phrase "otherwise objectionable" does not include software that the provider finds objectionable for anticompetitive reasons. In regard to the state-law claims, the panel held that Enigma's allegations of anticompetitive animus were sufficient to withstand dismissal.In regard to the federal claim, the panel held that section 230's exception for intellectual property claims did not apply because Enigma's false advertising claim did not relate to trademarks or any other type of intellectual property. The panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Enigma Software Group USA, LLC v. Malwarebytes, Inc." on Justia Law